Like many Americans, I was appalled by the events this weekend in Charlottesville. As the cameras turned to the president’s golf retreat in New Jersey, my disgust turned to outrage as Trump failed an early test of moral leadership. It was not simply that Trump did not necessarily share my moral view of the world, but that the president of the United States had no moral view whatsoever.
As the son of a World War II aviator who flew 27 missions over Germany, I have been greatly distressed to see that the Nazi doctrine of hate that 16 million Americans bravely fought to destroy, had been retrieved from its ruins and was now openly embraced in Washington and elsewhere. I shared Senator Hatch’s outrage at President’s Trump timid response to the tragic events and now subsequent embrace of the white supremacist.
Yet I was heartened to see so many Republicans express outrage and disappointment over President Trump’s flunking this vital test of moral leadership. Finally, there was something in Washington upon which Democrats and Republicans could agree. Why not build on this moment so that Heather Heyer’s death that day will be a turning point in the fight against intolerance in America?
Putting a Spotlight on Charlottesville
While presidents have the bully pulpit, Congress has the power of investigations which can draw public attention to an issue. Congress should immediately schedule hearings on Charlottesville, including the administration’s removal of right-wing groups from the terror watch list despite warnings from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that the white supremacist movement “likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year,” and defunding Life After Hate, which seeks to combat hate group violence.
Congress also should put pressure on the Trump administration over his staff with links to white supremacist and/or neo-Nazi groups such as Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, Katharine Gorka and Michael Anton. Earlier this year, 170 House Democrats and over 15,000 lawyers and law professors signed letters calling for Bannon’s removal.
This is not a partisan issue. The white supremacy and political insurgency that Mr. Bannon has embraced and amplified contradicts everything we stand for as . . . Americans.
Embrace Racial Reconciliation
While denunciation of white supremacist is important, equally important is moving the country in the opposition direction of their agenda. There is one area, in particular, in which Democrats and Republicans have a history of cooperation – voting rights.
In 2006, President Bush signed the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006, which reauthorized the Voting Rights Act that was first passed in 1965 in response to Bloody Sunday in Selma. The bill, which was introduced by then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), passed the House 390-33 and the Senate unanimously.
In 2012, in Shelby County v. Holder, an activist conservative majority of the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s enforcement mechanism that enabled the Justice Department to block discriminatory voting laws. Since then twenty states have enacted legislation to make voting more difficult in ways that have a disproportionate impact on minority voters. For example, a court invalidated a North Carolina law that targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
In 2014, Rep. Sensenbrenner introduced legislation to reverse the Shelby County ruling, but it just sat there without even a hearing on the subject. Rep. Sensenbrenner reintroduced this bill in 2015 and 2017 – again without any action.
Only a decade ago, the protections of the Voting Rights Act had the support of over 90 percent of Congress, including 86 percent of Republicans. Returning to our past history of bipartisan support for voting rights would send a clear signal to white supremacist and the Trump administration that racial hatred is not an American value.
Restoring voting rights also would allow the Republican Party to distance itself from Trump’s shameful racial record. As Senator Bob Dole said in accepting the Republican nomination in 1996:
If there is anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we’re not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the party of Lincoln and the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise.
Tolerance (and the rejection of bigotry) is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue. Like Pearl Harbor generations ago, Heather Heyer’s death and the events of Charlottesville summon this nation to come together and defeat evil. Let this tragedy allow Democrats and Republicans to work together to demonstrate that, at least in some part of Washington, there is no sanctuary for bigotry.